*I received a free ARC of this book via Authoright’s Clink Street Spring Reads Week 2018. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Patrick Phelan is an ageing artist who has never made it big but who somehow manages to live on air in a North London suburb.
When not running art classes for amateurs, Patrick wrestles in the shed at the bottom of his garden with his life’s work: a series of visionary canvases of The Seven Seals.
When his wheeler-dealer son Marty turns up with a commission from a rich client for some copies of paintings by modern masters, Phelan reluctantly agrees; it means money for his ex-wife Moira. However the deal with Marty is, typically, not what it seems.
What follows is a complex chain of events involving fakery, fraud, kidnapping, murder, the Russian Mafia and a cast of dubious art world characters. A contemporary spin on Joyce Cary’s classic satire The Horse’s Mouth, The Horse’s Arse by Laura Gascoigne is a crime thriller-cum-comic-fable that poses the serious question: where does art go from here?
The Horse’s Arse does for the art world what Jilly Cooper’s Riders series did for the world of horse-sports, but with less of the sex and silliness of the latter!
It is obvious to the most casual reader that Laura Gascoigne is not only passionate about art, but knowledgable about everything from art history to the actual technical execution of various art forms.
Equally obvious is her particular joy for colour. This book is saturated in colour. Colour blazes from the pages, representing the other senses in a glorious synaesthetic kaleidoscope.
The main plot here is in strands which separately follow the artist Pat Phelan, an art reporter with a fondness for ‘Sheddism’, and a variety of desperate and/or unsavoury characters from the business side of the art scene. This combination works beautifully to give a full picture of the industry in all its varied aspects, and leaves the reader in no doubt as to where the author’s sympathies lie.
In addition to the crime plot, The Horse’s Arse looks at bigger questions: what constitutes art, what is its purpose, who is it for? Is ‘art’ just paintings on canvas, or do the more modern installation and interactive pieces ‘count’? Should art be an investment, immortalised in museums for the multitude to, er, pretty much ignore, or hung in a home for an individual to enjoy? How much should a piece be worth, who decides that, and on what basis? These questions are not posed separately but feed organically into the central plot for the reader to ponder along with the characters as they express their individual (and highly subjective) views.
This was a fun and fascinating insight into the world of modern (and classical) art, written by an insider to the field, and painted into the text in blocks and swathes of vivid colour. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in art looking for something that will both entertain and inform.
Pat was vacillating between Payne’s grey and indigo, testing them out in his mind to hear how they sounded, when the cadmium orange clang of cowbells broke in on his thoughts and threw out his calculations.
– Laura Gascoigne, The Horse’s Arse
Currently living in Hampstead, North London, Laura Gascoigne has worked as an art journalist for over twenty years, editing Artists & Illustrators (1994-1999) before going freelance. Laura was born in Cairo in 1950, the daughter of a bookseller and an Italian teacher, and grew up in Brussels and Cambridge before studying Classics at Oxford University. Her sister is the writer Marina Warner. Surrounded as a child by the paintings her father collected, she has always had a passion for art and when not writing about it, she paints.
The Horse’s Arse is currently available on Amazon.